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Which Nikon Hotshoe Flash Should You Buy? SB900, SB910, or SB700? – Q&A

By Matthew Saville on October 24th 2013


Ever since Nikon made the SB900 to replace the SB800, every professional and/or experienced photographer (note that the two aren’t always connected, but I won’t go there today LOL!) …every photographer seems to have forgotten about the SB800, and now the new SB700 which seems to be deemed only acceptable for amateurs. So, this is a question I see ALL the time: “Should I buy the Nikon SB-900, or the Nikon SB910?” …without any mention of the Nikon SB800 or the Nikon SB700 as professional choices…  The bottom line is that most everybody on the internet who is giving recommendations seems to always recommend the SB910 and nothing else.  But why?

nikon-sb-flashes-front-sb900-sb910-sb700-650pxThe SB900, SB700, and SB910
(Relative size is approximate)


Yes, the SB900 has issues with shutting down due to the overheat protection feature, and yes if you turn off the overheat protection feature you may have zero issues…or you may explode your flash!  ;-)  So if someone put a gun to my head and made me decide between the 900 and the 910, I’d pick the 910. But I’d like to know, who is that “someone” who keeps putting guns to peoples’ heads and making them decide random stuff? That’s not the real world.

In the real world, you can choose anything you want.  So, quit listening to those folks on the internet who say “if you put a gun to my head, I’d pick one of these two options.”  Remember that, first and foremost.  If you’re going to seek advice on the internet, get every angle and find at least one or two opinions from someone who has actually tried EVERY option, not just the one option you’re considering.  Because obviously if they’ve only ever made that one choice, and they’re happy with it, they’ll speak highly of it! But that doesn’t make the choice right for YOU, or the best choice overall.

If I could choose any Nikon on-camera flash on the market, for me it would be the Nikon SB700. Hands-down. It is every bit as functional as the SB900 / SB910, but its price is a fraction of the other “flagship” flashes. And here’s another thing that is important for some photographers- it is also much smaller and lighter! I hated how top-heavy the SB900 was; I originally bought an SB700 is a backup to the SB900, however I stopped using the SB900  almost immediately after that. The SB700 is that good.

Admittedly, the SB700 is slightly less powerful than the SB910.  However I’ve just never had a problem with that I guess.  I rely heavily on wireless flash for my job, which is wedding photography. In my opinion if you’re trying to bounce off ceilings that are so high that you can’t use an SB700 and you absolutely MUST have the slightly greater 1/1 flash power of an SB910, …well then you’re doing something wrong, you should be integrating additional lighting systems instead.

[Rewind: I use Nikon SB80DX flashes for all my wireless flash needs, with RadioPopper JRX triggers to control their power remotely.]

BTW, I have another soapbox lecture about flashes- If you’re on a budget, NEVER waste money on buying a flash brand new. There is almost nothing under the sun that could go wrong with a flash that doesn’t void your warranty. Really, the only thing that ever goes wrong with flashes is either you drop them, or you explode them. In either case, Nikon will just laugh at you when you try and ask for free repair under warranty. This is why I have been buying nothing but used flashes since, oh, 2006?

Just about the only reason I would consider buying a new flash is, if I were also going to get the third-party warranty, the “drops and spills” warranty that is offered by the retailer, not the manufacturer. Because 90% of the time, the Nikon warranty isn’t going to help.

Of course keep in mind, this advice is more geared towards those who are really on a budget.  If you can afford it, get yourself a new flash and get that “drops and spills” warranty too.

Anyways, now if you ever see a Nikon pro out there with the SB910, you can just chuckle and roll your eyes at them a little bit. Not just because the SB700 is so awesome, but also for one other reason that I need to mention before we wrap up.  Unfortunately, the SB900 / 910 have been known to be so top-heavy that it can cause connection (misfire, or no-fire) errors with certain DSLR bodies! (Most notably the D700, if you’re wondering) It is a serious issue that very few people actually know about; they always just dwell on the fact that the SB900’s horrible overheating issues.  So, this is why many experienced photographers just assume that the SB910 is the only professional choice. Well, I am here to tell you that it is not, in fact for anyone who has to use a flash on their camera for 8-12+ hours per day on a regular basis, such as wedding photography, I highly recommend, no I ONLY recommend, the SB700.  (If you still own an oldschool SB800 it might serve you well and live a long healthy life, however I hated the SB800’s menu system and the SB700 is a delight to use…)

nikon-sb-flashes-back-sb800-sb910-sb700The rear of the SB700 is actually my favorite, with physical switches for TTL / manual and on/off/master/remote, while the SB800 has that cumbersome “press-hand-hold” menu

I’ve been using Nikon SB flashes since the days of the SB80DX, and SB800 / SB600, (don’t bother with the SB400)  …and I gotta say the SB700 is by far my favorite out of every single one I’ve ever used.  The only down-side to the SB700 is that it doesn’t have a PC sync port, however since I never use it wirelessly and my cameras have PC sync ports, I don’t consider this to be a deal-breaker.  Besides, I hate PC sync ports in general, and try to avoid using them whenever I can. (3.5mm audio jack is the best type of port, by far!)

Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Luiz Valmont

    I used to have the SB700. Beautiful! Then I went on budget issues and switched to Yongnuos. First the YN565, now the YN568.

    But there is something I dearly miss from the SB700 days: its AF assist beam. YN’s is just plain “not for me”, let’s leave it at that. I miss how I could go to the extreme corners (* more on that latter) of the D600 and still get a functioning AF beam that would actually help me focus. 

    Now that I need a second flash because of being a prime shooter-who-carries-two-bodies-all-the-time, why not pick a better main flash since it won’t actually be a backup? That’s how I stumbled upon this very post.

    But (!!!) I’m really considering the SB910 over the SB700 because of its AF beam’s greater coverage. 700’s beam looks more like a “cross” whereas 900’s and 910’s look like they cover the AF area better.

    I also don’t mind the output difference that much. If ceilling is too high, I’ll put on a Lightsphere-like softbox and be done with it, even with a smaller flash like the YN-430. If I’m outside, however, then I’ll pull out an HSS enabled transmiter, push ISO higher, use a greater apperture AND a faster shutter speed. Bingo.

    AF beam is the ONLY reason I’m seriously considering the SB910. But it’s SO important to me that I might actually get it.

    PS: sorry for the lenghty comment! =)

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  2. Malcolm Bagnol

    I love my SB700, my only issue is when dialing a power..I wish it is just a press of up and down button, or left or right.

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    I have a D610 camera and owned my SB800 for 10 years. I have been having issues with it recycling and it is eating up my batteries like crazy so I am in the market for a new one. I went to the camera store today to purchase the SB910 based on reviews but purchased the SB5000 because the SB910 was discontinued. I paid 600.00. I was looking through the reviews and you tube videos and now I am thinking of returning it. Trying to get a SB800 new is 800.00 from ebay. My question is should I return the SB5000 and get a new SB700 or try for the used SB800? What is the real difference between the 2 besides the menu?

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  4. jozef povazan

    Well I have all 3 of them and honestly the most beaten up and used was SB700 last year… SB 900 had huge connectivity errors due to heavy head with my D3s or already sold D700 that it was driving me crazy at some events ! SB 700 is already broken since I had an MC dropping it twice at one wedding on the ground from the stand, but it still works in M mode and no zoom on its head – which I am fine with :) Buying another SB 700 this month, the price is down to $280 in canada :) love it…

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  5. Kurk Rouse

    Went with the 910

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  6. Matt

    Thanks for that Matt. I have been looking at the SB-700 vs SB-910 and I don’t mind paying the extra money, but only if it is for a noticeable benefit! Maybe there is now a few more $ for something like a graduated neutral density filter now :)

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  7. Tony Hodson

    Great article Matt, thank you. A little more advise on the subject if you can help? I have a D3100 which I’m really happy with and am looking to buy the SB700 flash. I want to be able to wirelessly fire the flash off camera, am I right to assume that this combo will work off camera? And can you recommend some reasonably priced remotes to trigger the flash? Thanks in advance, Tony

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  8. Gustavo Basso

    What about the SB-600!? Is it that bad? (Is the one I own…)

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    • Nick

      The SB-600 is great. I have 2 of them. They can be found for about half the price of the SB-700 and they have more power.

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  9. Nick

    No mention of the SB-700’s isuewi light pattern banding when zoomed in?

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  10. Alain Claveau

    I own several SB900, and a SB700 that i was about to sell. After reading your post i will rethink that.
    Thank for your post.

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  11. Mike

    I have two sb600’s and an 800. I love them all. The 600’s are my room lights for bigger venues and the 800 is generally always my on camera flash. I HATE the menu on the 800 but love the flash deeply…lol.. Too bad the 800’s that you can find are three times the price that they should be! I found my 800 on a certain internet list that rhymes with eggs for $100. I replaced the shoe mount myself for $20 and it’s been flawless.

    I thought about the 700’s but the lack of an external power port turned me away. Love the site keep up the good work!

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  12. Guru

    Hi, great article and exactly when I am confused which one to buy and this is just perfect. Just to ask is this still be good to use with my Yongnuo flash trigger to use off camera without any issue?

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  13. Kevin Stoohs

    Very happy with my SB700 so far. I of course wanted the more powerful SB900 but after reading your review I’m convinced I save myself the extra money!

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  14. Dan

    Great hearing your opinion.. After much deliberation I purchased the SB700 and have been stoked with it!! Will hopefully order another next week. I was told a number of times that I should have purchased the 900/910, But have found the 700 perfect for what I want/need..

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